Lengthy asylum periods harm refugees' employment prospects

Lengthy asylum periods harm refugees' employment prospects

Lengthy asylum periods harm refugees' employment prospects

The FINANCIAL -- Reducing the asylum waiting period for refugees could improve their employment chances and integrate them into their adopted country more quickly, a new analysis of refugee data from Switzerland shows.

The data, by LSE researcher Dr Dominik Hangartner and colleagues Dr Jens Hainmueller and Dr Duncan Lawrence from Stanford University, shows that reducing the waiting time by 66 days (10 per cent) would save Switzerland more than 5 million Swiss francs in social benefits and higher tax revenue.

The findings, published on August 4 by Science Advances, may have important policy implications for many countries struggling to deal with a ballooning influx of refugees.

Dr Hangartner, an Associate Professor in LSE’s Department of Methodology, says:

“Typically, asylum seekers are temporarily housed in the country of arrival while they wait for a decision on their asylum claim. During this waiting period, they find themselves in a legal and social limbo in which their lives are essentially put on hold and they operate under the threat of deportation. Despite these and other known hardships asylum seekers face during lengthy asylum procedures, it remains unclear how longer waiting times affect the integration of refugees into receiving countries.”

By analysing unique register panel data on all individuals who applied for asylum in Switzerland between 1994 and 2004, Dr Hangartner and colleagues from the Stanford-Zurich Immigration Policy Lab found that refugees waiting an additional year for their asylum claim decision face a 20% reduction in their subsequent employment rate.

This is across all genders, origins, ages, and language regions, a pattern consistent with the idea that waiting in limbo dampens refugee employment through psychological discouragement, rather than a loss of skills.

On average, the refugees in the authors’ sample waited 665 days for their asylum decision.

The findings indicate that policy reforms that marginally reduce the waiting period for asylum seekers would help refugees navigate the difficult transition from a life in asylum limbo toward successful integration into their host country.

Dr Hangartner says: “Reducing wait times is no silver bullet to solving the refugee crisis, but an important and practical mechanism to increase employment and thereby reduce the significant public expenditures for welfare benefits and increase the tax contributions of newly employed refugees.”

Co-author Dr Duncan Lawrence adds: “Money spent on reducing wait times, for example by hiring more case workers, while preserving the fairness and thoroughness of the asylum process will yield an excellent return on investment”.

While this study provides an important first step in enhancing current understanding of how the asylum process affects refugee integration, the authors say future research is needed on factors which affect refugee integration.